Sunday, August 2, 2015

Howling V: The Rebirth (1989)

Warning: this is going to get quite spoiler-filled

One Count Istvan (Philip Davis), not a creepy guy at all, oh no, invites a random – or are they? – assortment of people to the reopening of a Transylvanian castle that has stood closed up and shunned for five hundred years.

Things don’t go well for the party: there are some soap-operatic romantic constellations, people are assholes, and then the castle gets hit by a surprise snow storm that’ll make it impossible for anyone to get back to civilization as planned. That’s a particular problem once people begin disappearing. Soon, it becomes clear a murderer is strolling through the castle’s dark parts; eventually the characters realize what the audience has known all along: the murderer just might be a werewolf, and its motive might just have to do with the very reason the castle has been empty for so long.

Apart from the werewolf, Neal Sundström’s Howling V doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the films that came before in the so-called series, which in their turn generally didn’t have a whole lot to with each other. Though, seeing as it actually does contain a werewolf, it has one leg up over The Marsupials already. As the plot should make clear, the film goes about the often fruitful business of using most of the bits and pieces of a different genre than horror, only adding a monster to the equation.

In this case, the non-horror genre is of course the Manor Murder Mystery, just with a castle and a few more gothic trappings replacing the manor house, and the murderer turning out to be actually supernatural. There are also some locked room mystery bits, and other elements of the sort, of course. Unfortunately, Sundström and his scriptwriters aren’t very good at that whole murder mystery thing, not being able to draw characters you like to watch or to hate, and showing no clue at all about how to elegantly – or just functionally – use red herrings or alibis. I, at least, can’t imagine a crime novel of this sort treating “X was asleep the whole time”, as a believable alibi for a series of murders, or one where the detective categorically states that the murderer is always the most innocent seeming person around, only to then go on and ignore the most innocent seeming character as if she weren’t even there.

Consequently, much of the film’s mystery is pretty darn obvious, and its solution about as surprising as counting one’s fingers and thumbs and coming up with ten (or eight plus two, if you’re so inclined). However, unlike in most mystery novels of this style, there’s a certain pleasure to be found here in seeing the detective actually failing in the end, and the werewolf win through the guy’s utter stupidity and the paranoia of the film’s other survivor. Which is of course a perfectly normal horror movie ending, and one that gets into a rather pleasant dialogue with the film’s murder mystery parts, regarding concepts like trust in the infallibility of authority and the idea of a rationally explicable (and rationally acting work) a rational being can completely understand and therefor control.

Among the film’s other strengths are a number of quite atmospheric stalking scenes, and a really cool castle; among its other weaknesses is an often absurdly bad cast whose members just don’t seem to be able to deliver their lines in any sensible way. Some of them, however, are bad in a rather entertaining way, and everyone carries around rather excellent 80s hair too.

Despite the film’s rather heavy flaws (a murder mystery whose murderer isn’t much of a mystery is generally not a very successful film, and boring characters played by bad actors aren’t helpful there either), I found myself rather enjoying Howling V, particular in its second half, when the cast has been whittled down a little, the tensions between characters feel slightly more interesting, and the film does one or two things that actually come as a surprise. At least, the film gains a certain freshness by virtue of its not too often used genre mix, and in the right mood, there’s a lot to be said for a film whose action mostly consists of bad actors strolling through darkly lit rooms.

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